South African President Jacob Zuma received a mixed welcome when he delivered his opening address at the ANC’s four-day policy conference in Midrand on Tuesday.
As he took to the podium in his role as the party’s president, delegates from KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State sang: “We are going with Zuma, we are going with the president.”
However, other provinces and delegates sat back.
KwaZulu-Natal is the ANC’s biggest province and Zuma’s home province, and has 540 delegates at the event.
Speaking in measured tones, Zuma touched on the main points of each of the 13 policy discussion documents to be debated by delegates.
His comment that the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach to land reform should be reviewed as it was not working, received the loudest applause from the packed hall.
This was matched by enthusiastic applause when Zuma said the ANC had to lead the country by example.
“It is very important as part of the renewal of our organisation. We are not doing this for ourselves as ANC members. We are doing it for the country as a whole.
“That understanding must inform our behaviour, the manner in which we carry ourselves as members of the ANC in the eyes of the country.”
The rest of his speech, which lasted an hour and 13 minutes, was largely received in silence, with a smattering of applause when he mentioned that a job seekers’ grant should be considered, and that the ANC should cleanse itself of “alien tendencies”.
“To maintain [its] character, the ANC should be able to cleanse itself of alien tendencies,” Zuma said.
These included ill-discipline, patronage, careerism, corruption, abuse of power and a decline in the ideological depth of ANC members. Zuma said the party had “taken action and will continue to take action against anyone who crosses the line”.
He said the conference provided an opportunity to reflect on the party’s character, which was one of a disciplined force of the left, with a bias to the poor and working class.
Zuma also called on the ANC to debate its organisational renewal, to which a 69-page discussion document has been devoted.
He also mentioned the “second transition”. According to a discussion document on this the ANC had to enter a second era of democracy.
“We move from the premise that in only two years we will conclude the second decade of freedom and have to start asking difficult questions about the present and the future.”
Despite the achievements of the past 18 years, South Africa still faced the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
“We are therefore calling for a dramatic shift or giant leap to economic and social transformation, so that we can be able to deal decisively with the triple challenge.”
Zuma blamed failures in the first 18 years on the fact that the ANC had to make compromises when negotiating the terms of democracy in 1994.
“For example, we had to be cautious about restructuring the economy, in order to maintain economic stability and confidence at the time.
“Thus, the economic power relations of the apartheid era have in the main remained intact.”
Zuma said the ANC needed to rethink its economic policy.
“The economy: we need to go back to the basics and take the difficult decisions that we could not take in 1994, with regards to the economy.”
He called for “a thriving mixed economy, where the state, private capital, co-operative and other forms of social ownership complement each other in an integrated way to eliminate poverty and foster shared economic growth”.
“To achieve inclusive and labour absorbing growth, the state must play an active role in the economy, driving development, especially in neglected areas.”
On conclusion of his speech, delegates broke into song, including Zuma’s trademark “Awulethu’ Mshini Wami” (Bring me my machine gun)”.
The proceedings started over an hour late, with the ANC’s centenary flame marched into the main conference hall at Gallagher Estate by Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers.
Before this, the hall was filled with competing songs and whistling.
North West delegates sang: “We’ll take Zuma up to Mangaung… There is no problem.” Jeff Radebe, Baleka Mbete and Mathews Phosa sang along.
Led by North West and KwaZulu-Natal, they sang “Ha a yo mathatha Zuma a le teng (There are no problems when Zuma is around)”.
ANC members from KwaZulu-Natal belted out that those who burnt T-shirts with Zuma’s face on would be sprayed with bullets. Other provinces were quiet.
After Zuma’s speech, ANC national executive committee member Tokyo Sexwale read through the procedures and told delegates they could not sing derogatory songs. The crowd shouted its disapproval.
A delegate from Gauteng took to the stage and said all delegates were part of the ANC and should, therefore, be allowed to have their own points of view.
Reporters were then asked to leave the hall, which was decked out in the ANC’s green, gold and black, the party’s flag, and video screens showing footage of previous ANC leaders.
Over 3500 delegates were attending, including branch representatives, national executive committee members, the ANC’s leagues, its alliance partners, deployees, and business representatives.
On Tuesday, a closed plenary session would take place during which inputs would be received on three of the ANC’s main policy documents: organisational renewal, strategy and tactics, and state intervention in mining. The national development plan and commission guidelines would also be discussed.